Cultured Magazine

April/May 2016

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186 culturedmag.com PHOTOS BY DAVID HEALD, COURTESY OF GUGGENHEIM; NIKOLAUS STEGLICH, COURTESY OF MERCER UNION INTERNATIONAL TERRITORY With her Guggenheim residency, curator Sara Raza is expanding the museum's global reach. BY TRACY ZWICK "My project is very much driven by ideas," Sara Raza, Guggenheim UBS MAP curator for the Middle East and North Africa, asserts from a conference room in the Guggenheim Foundation's offices in Manhattan. "It's not driven by nationalism or territory. Rather, it's about understanding the way in which we perform the practice of everyday life." Raza has spent years investigating art from or about the region, and she's selected a body of it that will go on view at the Guggenheim this April in "But a Storm Is Blowing From Paradise," which brings together works from the museum's permanent collection. "I have a double mandate really," says Raza, who recently began her two-year Guggenheim residency. "First to study the existing collection, then to bring in works with a specific global perspective." Raza makes it clear that the work she's assembled isn't solely confined to a political lens. "Artists aren't politicians and I'm very much against giving an artist that kind of platform or putting them in the position to be speaking for an entire region or about an entire political turmoil," she says. Of course, there is still regional symbolism and a political undertone in parts of the show, for example in Kader Attia's Untitled (Ghardaïa). "It has an element of satire because it is an ancient city [in Algeria] that Kader has re-created and produced entirely in couscous. Le Corbusier, the father of modern architecture, visited the city and was inspired by it but never really acknowledged it as the original source of some of his architecture," she says. "He incorporated elements of the traditional architecture of this city into social housing in the suburbs of Paris, and the irony is that a lot of it was actually built by North African immigrants." The concept of smuggling is central to the exhibition, including the movement of ideas. She cites as an example Tunisian artist Nadia Kaabi- Linke's Flying Carpets, made of geometric aluminum grids suspended from the ceiling. "I always say it wouldn't be an exhibition about the Middle East if there wasn't a flying carpet in it!" she laughs. Kaabi-Linke's carpets float as expected, "but they aren't made of tapestry or silk or wool," says Raza. They allude to the myth of flying carpets, and are based on the artist's study of North African immigrants in Venice who sell their wares under bridges on carpet-like mats and are often chased away by police. "They've taken dangerous journeys to come to the shores of the Mediterranean. They come to Europe to receive some prosperity, but they just end up becoming part of this black market economy, so nothing really changes for them," Raza explains. She is clear that despite its regionality, "This is not an Islamic exhibition. This is a conceptual contemporary art exhibition that happens to include work from the Middle East. It incorporates pieces by Israeli artists and artists who are Christian, but it's not driven by their religious beliefs," she says. Several artists, including Iranian-born Canadian Abbas Akhavan and Bulgarian-born, London-based Ergin Çavuşoğlu, will be making their New York debuts. Some are already in major collections, others are early- to mid-career. "The way Asia and the Middle East are working, they're a bit ahead of Europe and America in the sense that they've already collected quite a few of these artists," she says. For Raza, the works also speak on a deeply personal level. "I have Persian and Iranian family heritage, my mother has Turkish origins and I've lived and worked in this region. The artists in this show are between two worlds, and that is something I feel about myself," she says. "People who speak two languages or live and work in multiple cities, these are signs of migration. It's not necessarily a forced migration but maybe a migration of choice. I think we've transcended the barrier between 'them and us' now in the 21st century. I'd like to think that we have gone beyond that." "But a Storm is Blowing From Paradise" at the Guggenheim includes Abbas Akhavan's Study for a Monument, 2013 (above), and Iman Issa's Heritage Studies no. 10, 2015 (right).

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